For any sportsman, confidence is worth its weight in gold, but for a tennis player it is priceless. Someone who is oozing the stuff right now is Stefanos Tsitsipas, with eight consecutive victories since starting his route to the title last week in Estoril. This Saturday he added his latest against Rafa Nadal in the semi-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
The 20-year-old Greek is in the midst of the best season of his career. In the Caja Mágica he will be playing his fourth final of the year, after picking up the trophies in Marseille and Estoril, as well as reaching the last round in Dubai. His performance in 2019 has allowed him to reach the top 10 of the ATP rankings, where he has been since March.
Before this Saturday, Tsitsipas had failed on all three occasions that he had met Nadal. In Barcelona, the ATP Masters 1000 in Canada and the Australian Open. In fact, he had never even taken a set off the Spaniard. But all that changed in the Caja Mágica. From the outset, he showed that this time it would be different.
It all started with a break that would set the tone for the first hour of the match. Nadal immediately responded with his own to level the match at 1-1. Just 45% of points won on the Spaniard’s first serve and 50% for the Greek tell the story of the first set. Between them they had 13 chances to break, but it was Tsitsipas who was able to convert the most.
First, in the seventh game. With attractive and daring tennis on the return, he found a break to put him 4-3 ahead. However, in a repeat of the start of the set, Nadal broke back immediately (4-4). Far from his best on his service, the player from Manacor was broken again (5-4) and although he was close to responding again, reaching 30-40, the world number nine’s determination at the net was enough to close out the set.
In the second, both players improved their service percentage. So much so, that Nadal took the first 10 points when his first serve was good (3-2). He took advantage of the lead to pressure Tsitsipas, pushing him behind the baseline for the first time and converting his first break in the second set (4-2). The Spaniard was then in control and reeled off two more games to take the match to a third set.
Despite stepping his game up and feeling more comfortable on court, Nadal’s problems continued. Although the Greek had to save two break points, the Spaniard needed to do the same (2-2). But Nadal was unable to save a third (3-2). It was the final nail in the coffin in a set in which his opponent strung together two more breaks (5-2). And although the Mallorcan pulled one of them back (5-3), it was a case of too little, too late.